When Sonia Furstenau first saw Ymir’s small but vital water intake, she instinctively wanted to protect it.
That’s been a familiar feeling for the BC Green MLA for Cowichan Valley. Furstenau has spent the last two years speaking in communities about what can be done to fight for and sustain local watersheds.
Before meeting with residents in Ymir on Tuesday morning, Furstenau took a trip with Ymir Watershed Protection Society spokesman Jason Leus to see the intake.
“I think that little pond and that tiny, little waterfall and weir, certainly indicates fragility,” she said. “This is not a watershed that has a lot of room to accommodate major shifts. It is a delicate, fragile and small watershed. I think all delicate and fragile things needs to be treated in that way.”
Furstenau, one of three Green MLAs in the BC legislature and the party’s house leader, stopped in Ymir as part of a three-day tour that included events in Nelson and Crawford Bay.
After being elected last year, Furstenau’s office received 100 handwritten letters from Ymir residents asking for help in its battle against BC Timber Sales’ plans to log its watershed.
She answered the call, and spoke to a large group at the Ymir Community Hall that included residents from other communities such as Glade who are also concerned about their water sources.
Furstenau has firsthand experience in protecting watersheds.
In Shawnigan Lake, she was part of a four-year protest against a company that was dumping up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil annually onto the community’s watershed. That ended in a victory for the community when then-environment minister Mary Polak cancelled Cobble Hill Holding’s waste discharge permit in February 2017.
That experienced informed Furstenau’s advice to Ymir residents, which focused on teamwork.
“In Shawnigan, we had the research team, the fundraising team, the communications team and the social media team. That just made us be able to work more effectively as a community and nobody was burning out. We spread out the leadership.
“Ultimately, building community is essential. There’s got to be joy, hope, vision and excitement for the future, because that fuels your efforts far more than anger or fear. It’s really about ultimately coming together, creating a vision of the future for the community, articulating that vision and taking one step toward that over and over.”
Furstenau was also asked several times about a perceived disconnect between provincial government and rural communities, as well as the professional reliance model that requires resources companies to do their own environmental studies for any proposed project.
She cited Youbou, which is located in her riding and is currently grappling with logging plans residents say could cause landslides and affect their watershed.
“This is happening all over BC,” she said. “It’s an indication to me that our processes for making these decisions are not effective because they are creating so much conflict and anxiety in communities. People are ultimately not trusting these processes, and when you’ve lost trust in government decision making, you’re eating at the fundamental fabric of democracy.
“Professional reliance is a part of the breaking down of that integrity and trust.”
Regional District of Central Kootenay directors Ramona Faust, Tom Newell and Hans Cunningham also attended Furstenau’s talk. Cunningham, who represents Ymir and has previously spoken out against the logging plans, said he thought it was a productive event.
“I really enjoyed what she had to say, because what she spoke about is even though you can be small and insignificant, you can make change by working together and being relentless in where you want to go,” said Cunningham.
There was already evidence that was happening Tuesday. A sign-up sheet was passed around the room for anyone interested in creating a regional watershed society.
That sheet was full of names and email addresses before the meeting was over.